Two challengers are vying to beat incumbent at-large DC councilmember Anita Bonds in the Democratic primary. Greater Greater Washington recommends Jeremiah Lowery for your vote. We believe he’s the candidate with the strongest vision, passion, and the best ideas to address affordable housing, transportation, and other important issues facing DC.
Lowery has spent his entire adult life as an activist in DC, where he worked as a climate justice organizer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and heading the DC Universal Childcare Now Coalition.
On the transportation issues Greater Greater Washington covers, Lowery approaches them primarily through an environmentalist lens. As such, he can speak from the heart about the need to reduce dependence on cars (and he himself does not own a car). He supports more bus and bike lanes, even when that means taking away parking spaces. He wants to expand transit, including completing the streetcar line.
Lowery is committted making DC a 100% clean energy city, completely shutting off the spigot of fossil fuels. Universal high-quality child care for all parents in the District is another top priority for him. He said helping parents facing high child care costs would help alleviate other pressures they face, such as increasingly expensive housing. Indeed, high quality publicly funded childcare would likely do more to ease displacement pressures than any housing program.
Affordable housing has emerged as a major issue in the campaign this year, particularly because Bonds, the incumbent, chairs the Council's Housing Committee. Among Lowery’s housing proposals are establishing community land trusts in the District. Those are nonprofit, community-based organizations that build and renovate housing and then sell homes to low and moderate income families at affordable prices. When those homeowners later sell their homes, they split the increased property value with the trust, which uses its share of the money to continue preserving affordability for future homeowners.
Lowery also wants to outlaw voluntary agreements written by landlords in which tenants waive their rights under the District’s rent control laws. He said these agreements are frequently targeted at low-income residents and people with limited English language proficiency.
We've had concerns about Lowery's penchant for calling out “developers” as a universal boogeyman at campaign events, even in one instance in relation to the education achievement gap. While there are horrible slumlords who need the hammer of enforcement brought down swiftly, it's also the case that, as Martin Austermuhle pointed out, some developer built your house, and your parents' house, and your friend's house, and so on.
We criticized Lowery for this, and in an interview, he said he realized this was overly simplistic. He said something similar again at a later forum, but we still believe he understands there is more depth to these issues.
Committee members asked Lowery in an interview whether he thinks market-rate housing must play a role in dealing with affordability, with increased housing stock reducing upward pressure on housing prices. He said yes, adding that to avoid displacement, more housing is needed for middle income earners. Lowery said he was more familiar with proposals from affordable housing advocates than from developers, and said if elected he would hire legislative staff with extensive experience in housing issues.
Lowery sat on our volunteer Advocacy Committee in 2017, wrote a post that year for our reader drive, and participated in internal contributor discussions, though in keeping with our political activity policy, once he was a candidate for office he stopped serving on any volunteer committee, and he was removed from the internal email list. Endorsement decisions are made by our Elections Committee without regard to a candidate's past involvement with Greater Greater Washington.
We have also been closely following the allegations, which Lowery denies, that he ripped down a rival's campaign signs. We held off on our endorsement for a week to see if anything would develop. So far, there are just two people's statements (at least one of whom is a Goodwin supporter) and a picture of Lowery getting in a car. If true, this would certainly signify bad judgment, but no further evidence has emerged. We do not feel it is fair to irrevocably tarnish a candidate with an unsubtantianted allegation.
What we can substantiate is that Lowery brings a passion around these issues unmatched by his competitors or many of the sitting councilmembers. Too many candidates support more bike and bus lanes and claim to recognize the importance of increased housing supply, but they simply have other priorities and are not willing to take political risks and show real leadership on our core issues.
Anita Bonds completed our questionnaire, but her responses scored the worst out of the three candidates in ratings from readers and committee members. Despite multiple attempts to schedule a follow up interview with her team, we received no response.
Her responses share a clear level of policy depth that you would expect from an incumbent. However, many in the housing field question the consistency of her leadership on important housing issues. Tenant advocates were particularly upset with the way she handled the negotiations around reforming the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA).
Bills reforming loopholes affecting renters have been stuck in her committee for some time, and while the Housing Production Trust Fund has been consistently funded at $100 million each year, there have also been clear patterns of mismanagement and poor use of the funds. Though not directly under her control, many are looking for stronger leadership from the Housing Committee chair on this issue, and the many other policies affecting affordable housing in the District.
In addition to Lowery, we interviewed Marcus Goodwin, another Democrat running for the seat. He demonstrated a firm grasp of housing development finance, which he’s worked on in a former job at a DC-based real estate development company. We found much of what he had to say about housing focused on specific details of specific developments, with less focus on policy ideas to address affordable housing, though he did have some good ideas.
One idea we liked from Goodwin was requiring community benefits packages included in Planned Unit Development agreements to be posted in a publicly-accessible online database. But urbanists might not agree with Goodwin on what those community benefits should include. He told us he thought the Louis — an apartment building whose location at 14th and U Streets NW is densely populated and well served by transit — should have been required by the District to be built with a parking garage.
Goodwin stressed support for more bike lanes, but otherwise his transportation views seemed more in line with his support for parking garages in dense areas well served by transit. He said rather than taking road space from cars for bike lanes, sidewalks should be narrowed (he suggested North Capitol Street for this).
Winning the the June 19 Democratic primary for the at-large seat is tantamount to winning the general election in November. One other at-large councilmember, who by law cannot come from the majority party, will also be elected in the general election. Greater Greater Washington will write more about the race for that seat after the primary.
In the meantime, we urge DC Democrats to vote for Jeremiah Lowery on June 19.
This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our board and other volunteer committees. Want to keep up on other endorsement posts? Check out our 2018 primary summary page and sign up for our weekly elections newsletter.